I've heard the term "accessibility" pretty often (esp in regards to web and web applications), but never really knew what it was all about. I mean, I've seen the "Accessibility" icon in my Control Panels programs...but never had to use it. So, when I saw that there would be a presentation on the basics of accessibility, I decided to see what it was all about.
Yes, the term is pretty self explanatory...accessibility deals with how "accessible" something is. But in this regard...it's about how to make the internet more usable for people with disabilities. I mean, have you every really thought how/if a deaf person would be able to subscribe to a podcast? Or how a blind person could "see" the internet?
The presentation was brief overview of all that can be done to allow the blind to "see" and the deaf to "hear". Applications such as screen readers, literally read specific bits of information on a web page and podcast transcripts allow the deaf to read the info/programs that they can't hear. This may not seem as anything too new or different, but it's definitely important.
The seminar focused mainly on screen reader applications and the importance of "marking up" appropriate bits of information so as to provide a higher level of navigation. When headers and links are properly marked up, the navigation for the screen reader is much easier and allows the users to have a better experience on a site. The idea (or the application) of the reader jumping between marked links is actually not all that new, but it is relatively new to have the reader able to jump between headlines. Header mark ups are also used for search engine optimization (hmmm...higher organic search result position, maybe??)...a point that I wasn't aware of.
The main thing that I took away from the seminar is that the tools available to increase accessibility are so easy to implement and simple that there shouldn't be any reason for them to not be implemented...increased accessibility enhances the everyone's experience. So make sure you're doing the easy, simple things first and don't get hung up in the "gray" area.
Check out the Web Accessibility Initiative site to get more info on this topic and to get a feel for the standards and guidelines concerning accessibility...